LINGUIST List 9.1332

Fri Sep 25 1998

Sum: Machine Translation of Prepositional Phrases

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Keith J. Miller, Machine Translation of Prepositional Phrases

Message 1: Machine Translation of Prepositional Phrases

Date: Thu, 24 Sep 1998 12:15:07 -0400
From: Keith J. Miller <>
Subject: Machine Translation of Prepositional Phrases

A while back, I posted a message requesting pointers to

1. articles directly addressing the problem of _Machine Translation_
of prepositional phrases - in particular, previous proposed solutions
and/or implementations/evaluations of those solutions.


2. articles relating to evaluation of the current state of the art in
PP translation. Both a) pointers to articles and b) suggestions for
handling the fact that there may not be numeric (hard, factual)
metrics that demonstrate that PP translation is an area in MT that
needs improvement would be appreciated.

I would like to thank all who responded:

Francis Bond
Ted Dunning
David Farwell
Stephen Helmreich
John Hutchins
Marion Kee
Marc Picard
Irina Reyero-Sans
Deborah D K Ruuskanen
Ralf Steinberger
Arturo Trujillo

Their responses are incorporated into the summary below.

I. Articles addressing the Machine Translation of Prepositional

With respect to the first request above, as John Hutchins notes "there
are few treatments specifically devoted to prepositional phrases in
MT. However, this problem area will have been treated in the context
of valency, case grammar, and general syntactic and semantic analysis
-- particularly for languages such as Japanese, German and Russian."
I have certainly found this to be the case. Nonetheless, he and
several others did uncover several references pertaining specifically
to the MT of PPs. These are listed below. In particular, two
Ph.D. theses have recently been completed that deal with prepositions
in machine translation: Reyero-Sans (1998) and Trujillo (1995).

In addition to specific articles, I received a couple of pointers to

There is work at the University of Helsinki on the translation from
Finnish case endings to English prepositions.

I was referred to the "Catalyst Project" at CMU, where there was
detailed empirical work done on the semantic categorization of English
PPs, starting from the discussion of PP usage in Quirk et al., and the
subsequent arrangement of the resultant categories into a hierarchy.
Similar analyses were done for the target languages.

II. Evaluation of the current state of the are in PP translation

Unfortunately, with respect to the second request, the jury seems
still to be out. This is not surprising, given the lack of agreement
surrounding MT evaluation methodologies. Several people did cite
internal evaluations of systems, often stating that performance on PPs
was not broken out specifically. One respondent gave a personal
impression that the system correctly translates 75-80% of PPs, based
on human inspection of the output.

As a way of handling the fact that there are no 'benchmark' numbers in
the literature for the translation of PPs, it was suggested that
Systran be used as the gold standard - comparing the rate of correct
translations of PPs by Systran to that of whatever approach(es) I
suggest in my work, in order to determine an upper bound on the
improvement expected based on my methods. It was further suggested
that I could perform a direct comparison of my methods to available MT
systems, using a human translation as the standard. I am interested to
hear any reactions (positive or negative) to this methodology.

Thanks again to all who responded.

					----- Keith J. Miller

(references included below sig.)


Georgetown University 							
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Washington C3 Center
Computational Linguistics 						
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McLean, VA 22102

Below is a compilation of the references sent by people responding to
my initial query. Some I was previously aware of; many I was not. For
completeness, I have attempted to include all references and pointers
to information that were provided to me. The (somewhat rough)
classification of references is mine, and is used in an attempt to
give some structure to the list. It is based on information from the
person providing the reference, a quick glance at the material, or in
some cases, simply from the title of the reference itself.

(Semantics of) PPs in MT

Bond, Francis and Kentaro Ogura and Hajime Uchino. Temporal
expressions in {Japanese}-to-{English} Machine Translation, Seventh
International Conference on Theoretical and Methodological Issues in
Machine Translation: TMI-97, Santa-Fe: 55--62. 1997.

Bourquin-Launey, Marie-Claude. De la traduction automatique a la
reflexion linguistique: La Traduction de la preposition anglaise
through. Contrastes: Revue de l'Association pour le Developpement des
Etudes Contrastives, Nice, France (Contrastes). 1984 Jan. 81-99.

Burns, J. English prepositions in automatic translation. Beitrage zur
Linguistik und Informationsverarbeitung. 1965; 7:50-61.

Durand, Jacques. On the translation of prepositions in multilingual
MT. In: Van Eynde, Frank, ed. Linguistic issues in machine
translation. London, New York: Pinter Publishers; 1992: 138-159.

(Andrea Foertsch (=Frtsch) wrote on Semantic Types of PPs (for METAL).

Gough, James. On the German locative: a study in symbols. Mechanical
Translation. 1967; 10(3-4): 68-84.q

Japkowitz, Nathalie; Wiebe, Janyce M. A system for translating
locative prepositions from English into French. In: 29th Annual
Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics:proceedings
of the conference; 1991 Jun 18; Berkeley, California.: ACL; 1991:

Meijer, Siety (Essex Univ.) La traduction de prepositions
temporelles. In: Clas, Andre; Bouillon, Pierrette,
eds. TA-TAO:recherches de pointe et applications
immediates. Troisiemes Journees scientifiques du reseau thematique
"Lexicologie, Terminologie, Traduction" ; 30 septembre, 1er et 2
octobre 1993; Montreal. Montreal (Quebec)Canada: AUPELF, UREF; 1994:

Nuebel, Rita. Knowledge sources for the disambiguation of prepositions
in machine translation. In: FIMTP96. 1996.

Reyero Sans, Irina. The semantics of Locative Expressions in English
and Spanish: A Formal and Computational Approach, PhD Thesis, UMIST,
UK, 1998.

Trujillo, Arturo, "Lexicalist Machine Translation of Spatial
Prepositions", Ph.D. thesis, UMIST, 1995. (available in PostScript

Trujillo, Arturo. Towards a cross-linguistically valid classification
of spatial prepositions. Machine Translation. 1995; 10(1-2): 93-141;
ISSN: 0922-6567.

Trujillo, Arturo. Spatial lexicalization in the translation of
prepositional phrases. In: 30th Annual Meeting of the Association for
Computational Linguistics: proceedings of the conference; 1992 Jun 28;
Newark, Delaware. : ACL; 1992: 306-308.

Trujillo, Arturo. Locations in the machine translation of
prepositional phrases. In: Fourth International Conference on
Theoretical and Methodological Issues in Machine Translation (TMI-92);
June 25-27, 1992; Montreal, Canada. Laval (Quebec): CWARC; 1992:

Zelinsky-Wibbelt, Cornelia (IAI, Saarbrucken). The semantic
representation of spatial configurations: a conceptual motivation for
generation in machine translation. In: Karlgren, H., ed. Coling-90:
papers presented to the 13th International Conference on Computational
Linguistics...; 1990 Aug; Helsinki, Finland. Helsinki: Yliopistopaino;
1990; 3: 299-303.

Semantics of PP's (not specifically MT-related)

Farwell, David. The Conceptual Representation of Functional
Structure. PhD Dissertation, Department of Linguistics, University of
Illinois, Urbana, IL. 1985.

Zelinsky-Wibbelt, C. (ed), "The Semantics of Prepositions", Mouton de
Gruyter, Berlin/New York, 1993.

Other references and pointers (PP attachment, other)

Chen, Kuang hua; Chen, Hsin hsi (National Taiwan Univ.) A rule-based
and MT-oriented approach to prepositional phrase attachment. In:
Coling-96: the 16th International Conference on Computational
Linguistics. Proceedings; 1996 Aug 5; Copenhagen. :[ACL]; 1996:

Harper, Kenneth E. The position of prepositional phrases in Russian.
Mechanical Translation. 1964; 8(1): 5-10. Sigurd, Bengt. The Problems
of Multi-Word Prepositions and Subjunctions. Working-Papers, Lund,
Sweden (WPLU). 1993, 40, 197-212.

Steinberger, Ralf, _A Study of Word Order Variation in German, with
Special Reference to Modifier Placement_, Ph.D. thesis, UMIST, 1994.

Sumita, Eiichiro; Furuse, Osamu; Iida, Hitoshi (ATR). An example-based
disambiguation of prepositional phrase attachment. In: TMI-93: the
Fifth International Conference on Theoretical and Methodological
Issues in Machine Translation with special emphasis on: MT in the next
generation; July 14-16, 1993; Kyoto International Community House,
Kyoto, Japan. [Kyoto: TMI Secretariat]; 1993: 80-91.

Sumita, Eiichiro; Iida, Hitoshi. Example-based transfer of Japanese
adnominal particles into English. IEICE Transactions on Information
and Systems. 1992; E75-D(4): 585-594.

Togeby, Ole. Translation of prepositions by neural networks. In: Pind,
Jrgen; Rgnvaldsson, eds. Papers from the Seventh Scandinavian
Conference of Computational Linguistics; 1989; Reykjavik. Reykjavik:
Institute of Lexicography and Institute of Linguistics: 237-249.

At the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich, Germany, several
students (recently) submitted M.A. theses on PP-related problems
(written in German)

Inge Mahlmeister wrote on the syntactic description and the automatic
analysis of the PP-internal structure using the (Siemens) SUNDIAL
system. (1991)
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